Where do our dreams come from?
"We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep." - Prospero in "The Tempest" Act 4, scene 1, William Shakespeare.
Have you ever awakened from a dream and for just a moment wondered which is the dream and which the reality? Or have you dreamed something vivid and odd, well outside your life experience and awakened in the morning puzzled over how and why you dreamt such a thing? Perhaps you've sat up screaming in the middle of the night, the vestiges of the terrifying nightmare you just had still haunting your waking mind. Certainly at some point in your life, maybe more than once, you've asked yourself, where do my dreams come from?
Certainly dreams originate from more than a bit of undigested cheese as Scrooge proclaimed in "A Christmas Carol."
More than six thousand years ago humans were asking the same question. The ancient Hebrews believed dreams came from God, especially dreams that seemed prophetic. The Greeks and Romansalso thought dreams were manifestations of the will of deities.
Several centuries ago, with the advent of Sigmund Freud's modern psychology, dreams were cataloged as the Id's nocturnal expression of repressed desires, primarily sexual in nature.
"Probably the most well-known of the modern dream philosophers was Sigmund Freud. His theory was that although dreams may be prompted by external stimuli, wish-fulfillment was the root behind most of our dreams. Freud's idea was that our dreams were reflections of our deepest desires going back to our childhood. To Freud, no dream was of entertainment value, they all held important meanings." 
The early 1900s found a plethora of spiritualists that jumped onto the psychiatry and psychology bandwagon by promoting the idea that dreams were mostly spiritual in nature and gave insights into the dreamer's personality, relationships, ambitions, successes, failures, and even future events.
Although much of this speculation hearkened back to early Judaic mysticism, to a certain degree the spiritualists were correct. It's rather remarkable when one considers that their hypotheses were based primarily upon subjective analysis of causal relationships.
The downside to their approach was the complete lack of any scientific methodology that could test their hypotheses and prove the validity of their arguments. Thus, their entire field of dream research made great fodder for the Sunday supplements, but did little to advance real human knowledge.
"Nothing happens unless first a dream." - Carl Sandburg
During the 20th Century dream researchers (primarily psychologists) began trying to unravel the entire spectrum of dreaming. Their work was augmented to an extent by physiologists and neurologists studying the anatomy and mechanics of the brain.
Carl Jung studied dreams intensely.
"Carl Jung, a student of Freud for some time, disagreed on the theory that erotic content was the basis behind most of our dreams. Jung believed that dreams reminded us of our wishes, which enables us to realize the things we unconsciously yearn for, and helps us to fulfill our own wishes. Contradictory to how Freud believed dreams were a product of our desires that were too outrageous for our own belief, and were in our unconscious to help conceal these desires. These dreams were messages, Jung believed, from ourselves to ourselves and that we should pay attention to them for our own benefit." 
"Ever since the Freud/Jung rivalry, other theories about dreams and dreaming have flourished and are continuing to be developed today. There are those that believe that any theory on dreams is basically pointless to have a theory on dreaming because it is just another fact of life. Dreams, to some, are meaningless to us and just another one of those things that comes along with life. Then there are others who say that dreams are either the clearing of fragments from our memory banks or that they are the storage of these fragments. Either way they are believed to be unimportant to us and should be disregarded. However, there are the people that argue against this and say that dreams are important to living full and complete lives. Until there is a definite way to study how dreams work and where they come from for sure, we will only have to decide which theory we believe for ourselves." 
Philosophers and metaphysicians have also attempted to discover the elusive keys to conscious, cognitive thought. Rene Descartesanalyzed consciousness and dreaming. Ayn Rand rejected his approach, but eventually drew the same conclusions. Friedrich Nietzsche - and a legion of other philosophers - all investigated the nature and origins of dreaming. French philosopher Jean-Paul Sarte explored the subject in his seminal work, "Being and Nothingness."
"Dreams are necessary to life." - Anais Nin
The great Alfred North Whitehead began exploring dreams through the lens of his "Process Theory." He rejected as flawed the neo-platonic conception of dreams of which much of the work of Freud and his pupils had utilized as the foundation upon which to build the edifice of their theories. Instead, Whitehead believed that dreams were based on a mind that experienced reality conceptually and emotionally.
"For Whitehead, there is no matter, no mind. Not initially, anyway. These are both errors of abstract concreteness, where we have confused an abstract idea of something as being the real thing itself. 'Science,' Whitehead says, 'is quite valuable, and has finally seen that matter is really a set of processes in motion, of events. But what science fails to see is that these processes are creative, experiential processes. Rather, science reverts back to its old notion that processes are just a new container for materials.' Whitehead's process theory proposes a radically different stuff of which the universe is made, creative experience, or feelings. This doesn't mean that the world is just a projection of our own mind, but rather that the universe is a process of multitudes of experiencing individuals." 
From a physiological standpoint, dreaming is necessary to maintain a healthy equilibrium between a rational cognitive thought process and perception of the surrounding environment via interpretation of the stimuli from the senses. Dream researchers in experiments conducted upon human subjects as far back as the 1950s discovered that sleep deprivation resulted in psychosis and hallucinations. Extrapolation of the schism that developed between rationality and irrationality led researches to state that a chronic lack of deep dream states could eventually lead to death.
This fact has not escaped certain regimes in totalitarian states. As a matter of course, sleep deprivation is used to break down the mental barriers of prisoners in an attempt to attain information or confessions.
Do not confuse simple physical rest, however, with a deep dream state. The phenomenon of rapid eye movement (REM) indicates that a sleeping subject has entered the dream state. If awakened each time that state is achieved, the subject suffers the same symptoms that those subjects who are denied sleep entirely exhibit.
This has led to the hypothesis that REM sleep is crucial for physical and mental well-being. Yet it does not answer the time immemorial question, from where do our dreams originate?
The human mind is an amazing thing; it is much more complex than researchers throughout history have suspected. New data suggests that the human brain is actually multidimensional, a "holonomic, quantum brain." 
"Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream." - Eliphalet Oram Lyte
To understand the concept of the holonomic, quantum brain, let us consider the burgeoning field of quantum physics.
According to the newest research, evidence suggests that our holonomic, quantum brains interact with the universe at the quantum level. Therefore, cognitive awareness (the consciousness) can be shaped by contact with existence (the sensory awareness of our environment) and outside existence (this universe and all the facets of the multiverse). This underlying transfer of information can be shaped and directed by consciousness.  
Therefore, with the slightest amount of extrapolation, the question can be posed: could it be that the dream state is actually a quantum state of the mind where the consciousness of the individual interacts with the consciousness of the quantum universe?
If so, then the early Hebrews and the Nineteenth Century spiritualists had it right - at least to a degree. Their only handicap was they didn't have the scientific method, or the knowledge and supporting data to prove their intuitive hypothesis.
Today we have all three.
It has been determined that energy is information. Therefore entropy is a condition of increasing chaos in the order of the underlying information contained in quantum energy.
It has also been documented that by simply observing an object at the quantum level, it "forces" the quantum object to "make a choice." Quantum energy can either be expressed as a particle (the basic building block of matter) or a wave (the basic building block of energy). Astoundingly, the act of a conscious intelligence directly interacts with the basic foundation of reality and influences that reality in measurable ways. This has been known to be true for some decades. It has been proven in laboratory experiments, so it is not theoretical, but a measurable phenomenon. 
Therefore, conscious intelligence itself is inextricably linked to quantum reality and cannot only be influenced by the quantum matrix of reality, but can in itself directly influence the quantum matrix of reality and by extension, thus has the ability to modify the underlying reality of existence.
It has been shown mathematically that the matrix of our universe (the physical, observable reality we are part of) is linked to a multiple of other "realities" each exists independently, but can also interact with other realities within the matrix of a "multiverse."
Consciousness, which cannot be accounted for strictly by the bio-physicality of the human brain, has been demonstrated to be holistic in nature. There have also been experiments that tend to lead one in the direction of consciousness as not only being holistic in its ability to gather data from the available senses, distill that data into an ordered hierarchy of information, and then manipulate that information into a condensation of completely new information (the creative process of consciousness), but actually manipulate (or be manipulated by) the interaction of the surrounding environment - not only at the macro level but to the underlying quantum level itself.
The above data lends credence to the idea that everything that composes the known universe and the unknown multiverses, reduced to its most elementary level, is nothing more than a constant flow of information that can be interacted with by itself, other outside sources of information (one or more of the multiverses), or any conscious entity that can observe any of the informational processes of one or more of the existing realities. 
For consciousness to have such properties and abilities, consciousness itself must be part of the quantum matrix-a quantum matrix that is not confined to one reality but spans all realities (all universes) simultaneously. Therefore every quantum potential is only awaiting stimulation with interaction by the quantum consciousness to realize a modified nature of information. This is supported by the newest observational physics that has deduced that every observation we make of our observable universe is measurably changing the information of existence at the quantum level and introducing increased chaos (entropy) to this reality thus in effect hastening its eventual demise. Demise would be defined as catastrophic loss of order within the information supplanted by absolute chaos-just another way to describe non-existence.
"Some men see things as they are and say, 'Why?' I dream of things that never were and say, 'Why not?'" - George Bernard Shaw
In summation, we (our consciousnesses) exist in a multiverse that is composed of an unknown number of dimensions-or realities-of which our observable universe is only a part of the greater reality. Our consciousness is also multi-dimensional and transverses the multiverse but only on extremely subtle, quantum levels.
In essence then, consciousness continuously acts, reacts and interacts with the quantum matrix transversing all realities simultaneously. This state is one that we are normally unaware of at any level until revealed by specific experiments. Therefore, the nature of time, of space, of energy and matter are all governed by the underlying matrix of quantum information and to a degree-a degree yet unknown and only partially understood-the nature and purpose of consciousness is primarily to control and influence the reality of the multiverse. 
Dreaming is an important component of this information sharing at the quantum level and crucial to the function of consciousness itself. When a consciousness enters the dream state it is "downloading" in essence new information from the quantum consciousness permitting the consciousness to forestall corruption of the information it is carrying. This in turn delays the effects of entropic deterioration. An analogous example might be that our brains are being recharged as they interact with the underlying consciousness of the universe.
Whitehead's process theory actually anticipated the revolutionary breakthroughs into the workings of the quantum mind. Stuart Hameroff outlines the connection in his white paper entitled "Consciousness, Whitehead and quantum computation in the brain." 
What is this cosmic consciousness at the quantum level? Spiritualist, mystics and indeed, the world's major religions call it "God."
Is it possible that what the ancients suspected some six-thousand years ago is about to be proven as fact by science?
It's a mind boggling concept currently being debated on the leading edge of scientific research into the mind. It's also fascinating that hundreds of years after "The Great Awakening" and the "Age of Reason" that the science of physics has begun to lead the way on what may be the final breakthroughs into the mysteries of the human mind and consciousness. Indeed, that religion and science seem headed towards one focal point is also fascinating.
The next several decades should prove to be revolutionary as regards the study of dream research. The knowledge gained may not only serve to help many suffering from mental illness, but those with certain chronic physical ailments as well. Further investigation into the quantum mind could also reveal more about the nature of Man, existence and perhaps expose the intelligence at the foundation of creation itself.
Now that's a dream worth achieving!
 Schulze, Brandon. "Dream History." http://library.thinkquest.org/11189/nfhistory.htm
 Wilkerson, Richard Catlett. "Whitehead's Process Theory and Dreaming." <http://www.dreamgate.com/pomo/whitehead_and_dreamwork.htm>
 Pribram, Dr. Karl. "Holonomoc Brain Theory." Georgetown University, Washington, DC http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Holonomic_brain_theory
 Zizzi, P.A. "Emergent Consciousness: From the Early Universe to Our Mind" http://arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/0007006
 Anderson, Mark. "Is Quantum Mechanics Controlling Your Thoughts? - Science's weirdest realm may be responsible for . . . consciousness itself." Discover Magazine - Physics & Math / Subatomic Particles
 Hameroff, M.D., Stuart. "Funda-Mentality" Is the Conscious Mind Subtly Linked to a Basic Level of the Universe? - Arizona Health Sciences Center Tucson http://www.quantumconsciousness.org/penrose-hameroff/fundamentality.html
 Hameroff, M.D., Stuart. "Consciousness, Neurobiology and Quantum Mechanics: The Case for a Connection " http://www.quantumconsciousness.org/documents/case_000.pdf
 Janew, Claus. "How Consciousness Creates Reality." http://free-will.de/reality.pdf
 Hameroff, M.D., Stuart. "Consciousness, Whitehead and quantum computation in the brain: Panprotopsychism meets the physics of fundamental space time geometry" http://www.quantumconsciousness.org/Whitehead.htm